Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Man or Fish?

There was a pause while people in the basement shuffled about a bit, a couple sneaking out to use the bathroom between pieces, other latecomers sneaking in the back. Everyone sitting in the folding chairs looked around expectantly for the next performer.

I got up and walked to the front, starting to talk.

"All right." I said, turning around to face the 30 or 40 people in the audience, "I just memorized this about two hours ago. So we're going to have some fun." Laughs and cheers from the crowd.

"I'm going to need a little help. First of all, I would like a Caliban, please."

My friend Everett, something of an Iago specialist who's been picking up Caliban recently, stood up and came forward.

"Right, now can someone hand me my jacket?" Some laughter from the back. A few people already saw where I was going with this.

"Wait a minute," Tyler, our artistic director said, "Are you doing Trinculo? Are you going to jump on top of poor Everett here? Because when you call for volunteers and you're going to do something physical like that, you really ought to put out a disclaimer first."

"I won't jump on him!" I said. "At most I might snuggle a bit. Everett, if you want to sit down I won't be offended." Everett put up his hands, stifled a grin, and shook his head. He was in.

"You want someone on book?" My friend Jessica called from the back.

I thought for a minute.

"Nah, let's do this without the net. Make things interesting. What I will need though, are a couple people who can be loud. Anyone?"

Solomon and Adam immediately put up their hands. Of course.

"Excellent! Thank you. Now at some point, when I say 'thunderbolt'-- not 'thunder', but 'thunderbolt'-- I want you to make a loud noise."

There were some confused and mystified murmurs, but people were clearly engaged. I walked from the front space we used as our stage down the makeshift aisle between folding chairs, turned around, and began.

"Here's neither bush no shrub to bear off any weather at all! And another storm brewing! I hear it sing i' the wind, yond black cloud, yond HUGE one..."

I tramped down the aisle moaning about how I was probably going to be drenched if not drowned or struck by lightning in a few minutes until I turned and spotted Everett lying under my jacket. Then I got to say a few lines I've wanted to say in front of people since around my senior year of High School.

"???... what have we here? Man.... or fish? Dead or alive... a Fish! It smells like a fish. A very ancient and fishlike smell." And so on and so forth until I finally started to put it together. "This is no fish, but an islander that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt!"

CRASH. At least ten other people joined Adam and Solomon in noise making efforts.

"Alas! The storm is come again! My best way is to crawl beneath his gaberdine. There is no other shelter hearabouts... eugh. Misery acquiants men with strange bedfellows..."

Applause. Thank you, thank you very much.

Tyler, up front put on a big smile, looked at the ground in front of me and said "Wow, thank you for bringing that in."

Uh oh. I think that's what he says when he thinks it needs some serious work. The Tyler scale usually ranges from "That was awesome!" down to "Yeeeeah... Thanks for sharing." I was one polite step above that end.

"Two hours, huh?" He asked.

"Well, I've looked at it before," I admitted, "and I've wanted to do it for a while. But yeah this was the first time I actually sat down and tried to commit it to memory. Plus I cut out a large chunk in the middle. That helped."

"Great! Great. So, what did you bring this in for?"

"Well, my mom is in town," I gestured to my mother sitting in the back row, who smiled and waved. Everyone returned the greeting with enthusiasm. "So I wanted to do something, but I realized the first thing that came to mind was a monologue that involved talking about 'mothers smiling to see their infants quartered at the, erm, hands of war...'" I trailed off, letting the laughs start and then subside a bit, "so I thought I'd do something different. And this piece is so much fun. Really what made me do it was the phrase 'Man or Fish'."

Not having anything more of substance to say I naturally babbled for a another half minute before shutting up to get my feedback. As usual, Tyler talked about getting out of my head a bit more, and then started showing some really great and useful things about clowning that would really help-- mostly about making every single thing that happens the most important thing ever.  Erin, one of the resident artists, quietly from the back said she liked my focus on Caliban and wanted that same focus on the storm cloud in the beginning. There were some tips on breath control and line delivery, Vincent came back to hit me with his usual "I was watching Joel trying to be funny" comment, which was earned.

I did it twice more, Tyler stopping me a couple times, before finally promising to let me do it all the way through without interruption (though I could see him biting his fist on the sidelines to keep from calling out something).

One of the things he said at the end though surprised me.

"I think you've been through too many rehearsals or processes where people have tried to break you down with their direction. Because it seems like you're scared of criticism. Like every time someone tries to say something you kinda have to steel yourself for it like 'oh boy, here it comes.'"

It was a surprise because I've never really had any directors like that. Pretty much every director I've ever had had been very nice. Almost too polite in some circumstances. Some had been somewhat abrupt, but none were openly hostile.

I guess it was more the idea that while a lot of people had a lot of ideas about what should change, while what felt like half the audience came up to me during the break to say how much they'd liked it, nobody had really said anything about what specifically they wanted me to keep. Or maybe it's just because I don't have a drama degree or any sort of paper qualification that certifies me to really be at the level I feel like I am. So I'm just constantly looking for reinforcement. Just someone to say "you know what, kid? You can act."

We took a break for ten minutes and socialized. Tyler congratulated me again and said that while it was a lot of fun, the piece as it was written didn't lend itself to auditions. Just in case I was wondering. I thanked him again and started making the rounds. My mom, visiting from Seattle (and seeing me do something by Shakespeare for the first time since I was eight), was enjoying the whole thing thoroughly. Then our usual housekeeping announcements, people sharing what shows they would be in, when and where, the call for donations for the event, and then we came back.

We saw a hysterically good Benedick from Much Ado about Nothing ("The world must be peopled!") before his girlfriend came up to do Cassius from Julius Caesar. Then finally a moving heartthrob performance of the opening to Henry V before we wrapped for the night.

Normally it's then off to drinks at the bar, but my mom had a cold, and I needed to be at work the next day at 9am.

"It's really neat seeing the insides of these things, how the acting world really operates." She told me as she came home. "This is the real deal."

It's funny how that doesn't often occur to me, but yeah, she's absolutely right.

No comments:

Post a Comment